Out of 16 bids, made by companies from around the state, around the country, and around the world, the mayor's team chose ACS, a Xerox-owned company based in Dallas, to lead a team that includes Denison Global Parking, which already handles towing at city meters, and hometown company Evens Time.
If ACS sounds familiar, there's a reason: ACS is perhaps better known to Hoosiers by its full name, Affiliated Computer Services.
Affiliated was IBM's partner in the Governor's botched deal to privatize state welfare services at the Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA). The millions lost in taxpayer money before the $1.16 billion deal was finally scuttled notwithstanding (not to mention the millions we may still stand to lose today), the FSSA deal was a complete disaster for people who needed medicaid, food stamps, etc. Even disabled Hoosiers were going without benefits.
ACS was in charge of call centers and other services while the percentage of mishandled food stamp cases shot up from 4.38 percent in January of 2007 to 18.2 percent in January 2009. But for some reason, even after Gov. Mitch Daniels killed the deal, ACS stayed on as a subcontractor.
Why? you ask...
Look no further than Mitch Roob. A former executive at ACS, he was head of the FSSA at the time the no-bid deal went down. It was a pretty common assumption he greased the wheels for his former associates, and more than a few eyebrows were raised around the statehouse. State assembly members promised in October to scrutinize ACS carefully, but we haven't heard a whole lot since then.
These days, as we sit at the brink of a 50-year deal with Roob's former employer, Roob is secretary of the Indiana Ecomonic Development Corporation (IEDC). Coincidence that ACS got the deal? (I repeat, a 50-year deal.) Methinks it smells a little fishy.
Recall that last spring, an investigation by WTHR, the local NBC affiliate, discovered that the IEDC was padding its job creation numbers with jobs that were promised, but never materialized. WTHR estimates that "approximately 40,000 jobs promoted by the state have not materialized years after they were announced."
Right now, IEDC director Mitch Roob says he cannot back up his agency's jobs statistics with specific details because that information is secret.
"We don't share it with the public. We don't release it to the news media. That's confidential information," he said.
Which is, of course, an outrage coming from a man whose pockets are lined with taxpayer money.
But we want to award another big contract to ACS — for whom, despite past incompetence, the streets of our fair city must seem paved with gold. It's insulting, frankly. Does the Ballard administration really think no one will notice the stink of cronyism attached to its choice?
The gravy train chugs along.
I don't object to the parking proposal, generally speaking. I think the mayor's office has made some persuasive arguments: our meters are on par with the cheapest in the country and rates haven't changed in decades. If a higher fare means I can use my debit card at an electronic meter instead of digging for change I never have, that's fine with me.
Likewise, the $35 million the city is to receive up front — and the estimated $400 million over the course of the deal — will doubtless prove useful in a tough economy. That money goes directly to city infrastructure improvements and goodness knows we need them.
But this ACS thing stinks. If ACS had done a good job with FSSA, one would be inclined to call it greasy because of Roob's connections, but let it slide. That's not what happened.
The proposal must still go before the City-County Council for a vote. Contact your local counselor. Let him or her know you want this deal scrutinized, and heavily. Tell him or her the public wants to feel secure this is the best choice, not the greasiest.
As I've written here before, as long as Roob retains a major position in this administration, as long as ACS remains on the state payroll as a subcontractor, and as long as this costly experiment privatization deal continues to hemorrhage millions, the precise relationship between Roob, ACS and the state wants a bit more sunlight.